Northern Ireland news

Just one inmate came forward during five prison drug amnesties in 2016

One drug amnesty has taken place this year at Magilligan prison in Co Derry
Gareth McKeown

FIVE drug amnesties at prisons across Northern Ireland this year have resulted in just one inmate coming forward with any illegal substances.

A small amount of cannabis is all prison authorities have to show for the opportunities given to relinquish drugs without repercussions.

The cannabis was given up during in a 72-hour amnesty at Maghaberry jail in September, thought to have been triggered after some inmates showed symptoms suspected to be as a result of ingesting drugs.

At the time concerns were expressed that fake diazepam pills known as 'blue plague' were prevalent among prisoners.

Justice minister Claire Sugden has confirmed there has been one other amnesty at Maghaberry, two at Hydebank and one at Magilligan since the beginning of the year.

The other amnesty at Maghaberry lasted three days, while the two at Hydebank in 2016 lasted four and five days respectively. At Magilligan, the one amnesty to date in 2016 lasted three days.

But responding to a request from the Irish News, the Prison Service confirmed that no other inmates came forward or drugs were seized as a result of these operations.

A spokesman added: “Although no-one came forward in the amnesties in Maghaberry, Hydebank and Magilligan during 2016, significant quantities of drugs have been confiscated this year by the Northern Ireland Prison Service, using a range of mechanisms."

SDLP East Derry MLA Gerry Mullan said it was a "huge issue of concern".

"We need to look closely at the ways in which drugs are entering the prison service, often arranged by mobile phones smuggled into the jails which go unmonitored," he said.

“There may also be an issue with the postal service where suspect packages are slipping through the net. Royal Mail must be part of a concerted effort to tackle this.

“Our prison service, the Department of Justice and the justice minister needs to be a step ahead of these criminals. The minister must fundamentally review how her department is stopping the supply chain of drugs entering prisons."

DUP Fermanagh & South Tyrone MLA Maurice Morrow also called for a more "proactive approach".

"A step change in tackling drug abuse is urgently needed within our prison system and in society as a whole," he said.

"Illegal drugs are a scourge in our society and anything less than a determined effort to stamp it out will fail to impress upon society that the government is taking this matter seriously."

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